The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 lasted around forty-five minutes, making it the shortest war in history.
Towards the end of the 19th century various European powers fought for control of Africa (the so-called “Scramble for Africa”). In 1890, Britain and Germany agreed between themselves to take control of specific strategic points: Germany, amongst other things, wanted a piece of land known as the Caprivi Strip, which would give them access to the Zambezi River. Britain wanted no German interference with their plans for Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of eastern Africa in what is now Tanzania.
At the time, Zanzibar was ruled by Sultan Ali bin Said; he had declared the country a protectorate of Britain. Britain claimed the right to veto the succession of future sultans: they wanted to ensure that any new leaders stayed friendly to their interests. When Ali died in 1893 they rather forcefully persuaded the son of a previous sultan, Khalid bin Barghash, not to try to claim the sultanate. Their persuasion worked. That time.
The sultan that the British preferred, Hamad bin Thuwaini, ruled for three years and then died suddenly. Suspiciously, perhaps? Khalid bin Barghash proclaimed himself sultan – without permission of the British. When they tried to persuade him otherwise, he barricaded himself and 2,800 armed soldiers and civilians in the palace.
At 9:00am on August 27, 1896, British ships in the harbour opened fire, shelling the palace and the barricaded sultan. Forty minutes later the shelling stopped and the war was over. Five hundred people died, Britain installed the sultan they wanted, and Khalid bin Barghash fled to German East Africa. The Anglo-Zanzibar War was the shortest ever recorded.